Monday, August 17, 2015

Schizo—Shaking the Tree Theatre—SE Portland

“Nowhere to Run…”
This one-woman work on mental illness is created and performed by Katie Watkins.  It is playing at the Shaking the Tree space at 823 SE Grant St. through August 29th.  For more information, go to her site at www.katiewatkinspdx.com

This is a very personal, creative piece by Watkins, who grew up with a brother who has mental illness.  According to Watkins (who expresses it best):  “Schizophrenia doesn’t only live in the mind; it pervades every aspect of reality.”  Her younger brother was diagnosed with it at 11 years old.  She continues, “…it became a waking nightmare…my brother strove to maintain some semblance of normalcy…few could suspect the daily internal chaos he was working so hard to handle and hide.”  She adds, “My brother continues to live with schizophrenia, but he does live (my italics)…these stories deserve to be shared.”  Amen.

The show, as presented, is a multidisciplinary experience including recorded music, song, movement, taped narratives and monologues, with added lighting and sound effects to enhance the experience.  Through this short, but powerful piece, she is able to express in often non-verbal and non-linear ways, the struggles of an individual attempting to deal with the “windmills of the mind.”  All of us have bouts of depression and anxiety at times but consider having an entire life make up of this, with the added interference of hearing voices, having hallucinations, suicidal tendencies, delusions, disorganized behavior, et. al.

Consider living like this and trying to cope with our so-called “reality/normalcy.”  Anne Sexton from Wanting to Die:  “…most days I cannot remember.  I walk in clothes, unmarked by that voyage.”  A situation not to be desired.  There is no easy answer as to how to tame this savage beast within, the prowler between the light and the dark.  Medications seem to have some affect for some individuals but there are often side effects that are pretty potent, too.  A solution that simply says to turn off or ignore the voices is also a possible choice.  Whatever…it is a brain disorder and needs to be addressed somehow.  As Watkins puts it, “there is nowhere to run from what’s in the mind.”

Mind you, this is not a lecture on mental illness or a monologue about her personal experience with living with a family member who has it.  It is an attempt to show the inner workings of the persona of how an individual may experience the world through their eyes.  And Watkins does it beautifully.  This has to be an emotional roller-coaster for her (as I’m sure it is for her brother) but it is also a very courageous enterprise, bringing this complex, misunderstood and, even embarrassing, subject to the forefront of our world.  There are mysteries in our universe that we have yet to discover but the human mind might be more complex than even that.

If you have questions or want to share any personal experiences, there is a talk-back after every performance, which I encourage you to stay for.  And, for anyone who wants to investigate further into this vast subject, there is NAMI at www.namimultnomah.org or the Mental Health Crisis Line at 800-716-9769.

I do recommend this production.  Watkins has proved to be a very adept organizer in the background of theatre for a few years.  It is now grand to see her on the “boards” and know that she is equally qualified to be a creator also before our eyes (and she plays a pretty mean flute, too).  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.